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May this be Repaid in a Happy Occasion

“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, the 17th century English poet. “No man is an island; entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Through the poem, Donne shows that people’s lives are interconnected and one man’s life affects another’s. Comparing men to parts of continents, he said one man’s death impoverishes other human beings.

Influenced by his sad experiences, Donne, of course, dwells on the dark side of living, and stresses how a man’s misfortune affects other people. “Any man’s death diminishes me,” Donne continues, “because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tools for thee.” In short, Donne argues, as an Eritrean proverb has it, “The eye sheds tears when the nose gets punched.”

The Tigrigna understand the interconnectedness of human life, as their daily life, and how they live it show. For example, in the Eritrean highlands, among the Tigrigna, a wedding is never a private affair. After a young man has broached his intention to get married, (that is if his parents have not already arranged a marriage for him), it ceases to be his business only. It begins to involve his uncles, close and distant relatives, and even his village.

To officially request the girl’s and her family’s consent, the young man’s father leads a group of uncles, his friends, and neighbors to the girl’s family home. Following discussions, if the young woman’s family consented, a date is set for the wedding.

But relative’s involvement does not stop there. They are involved financially, too. Relatives are involved financially for many reasons. Firstly, as part of the society, they are ‘compelled’ to support one of their members. Secondly, the golden rule has a sway in Eritrean highlands: “Do to people as you wish them to do for you.” In the Tigrigna, people expect to be treated generously. Therefore, they generously help (as much as their resource allows). Thirdly, in Eritrea “blood is thicker than water.” In the Eritrean highlands, family relationships are very strong. Let alone close relatives, even distant cousins, do what they can to help whatever their relative’s circumstances. They remain with a family member in thick and thin. Fourthly, which is relatives who do not support a family in deed are taken to have broken a social norm, and usually, a silent conflict ensues between families in the same way, when the other family is in need.

Often, people understand their responsibilities and respect unwritten social norms and do not go far. Upon learning of the decision, relatives inform the family whose child is getting married how they could support. They usually don’t ask how they want the family supported. It is thought improper to ask. Families just offer their support.

Sometimes a family may be thought to have no financial resource, and should not be troubled. In a carefully worked out explanation, the family could be exempted from such obligation. One has no right to reject anyone’s offer unsympathetically.

Close family members, however, have to show their solidarity and have to be generous.

“I will give 50 injera,” one family may pledge.

“I will give a genii (a big pot) of suwa,” another family pledges its support. Often, in the villages in a wedding of average size, there are about 5 pots (of such size) of suwa.

“I will give a quintal of taff,” a man may promise on behalf of his family. The Tigrigna use taff for making flatbread, which is served with almost all Tigrigna dishes. Taff is considered food of the rich and wealthy. It is often served in Tigrigna weddings.

“I will give a quintal of dogusha,” another family may promise. Dogusha, another grain is used to make the local brew, suwa, in the Tigrigna.

In the countryside, the village people get involved in other ways. Young people have to go and get firewood from distant places. They are also expected to help in fetching water from the village well. In such happy circumstances, due to the sheer volume of water needed, it is thought beyond the capacity of the women to get all the water for the festivities; therefore young men get involved.

Men also get involved in erecting a makeshift hall, where people gather for the wedding ceremony, and the festivities. In the hall, the people eat and drink.

However, people do not gather in the makeshift hall just to eat and drink. The people are witnesses on the wedding day and ensure the legality of the wedding contract. In case the marriage is in trouble, the community gets involved through the guarantor of the contract. In coordination with relatives, the guarantor, the villagers’ official representative, does his best to help the couple resolve their differences.

On the wedding day, in the countryside everyone is invited to the wedding. Children, as members of the village, are not turned away and are given food and beverage just like everybody else.

In the towns, as in the villages, people get involved but in different ways. Usually, people do not offer to give taff, dagusha, or suwa or ingera in the towns. However, the family that is wedding a child distributes invitation cards, inviting relatives, friends, and acquaintances to the wedding. The family, however, does not openly request financial support.

In one corner, in a makeshift hall two people are seen seated. One of the two has a money-box while the other has a notebook and a pen. They are there to collect money invited guests contribute to support the family.

Most invited guests start to arrive at about an hour later than the time specified in the invitation card. They are led to seats, where they may share a meal with complete strangers. They enjoy the food and drink, and a friendly chat with the people who share their table.

Invited guests can’t just enjoy the food and drink and leave. They have to show their solidarity, and contribute some money, which the Tigrigna call edme, money paid at a Tigrigna wedding reception.

The men with a book and a pen, the secretary ,asks what that man’s or woman’s name is when he/she comes to his desk.

The invited man tells the secretary his name.

“And your father’s name?” the secretary asks. The invited man tells him his ather’s name. (It is his ‘job’ to write down the names of the people and the amount of money against their names.)

“How much?” the treasurer asks. He doesn’t spell out the whole question. Or the ‘secretary’ asks, “how much do you want me to write down?”

“Fifty,” the man may answer.

“Here is your change,” the treasurer or the secretary replies, if the guest has change to collect. And either the treasurer or the secretary says: Ab xibuq yimeles, in my judgment, one of the most beautiful expressions in the Tigrigna language. “May this be repaid on a happy occasion.”


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